John Doe document blitz must have broken mainstream media’s heart

Part 102 of 102 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — You could almost feel the heartbreak from the mainstream media following the latest John Doe document dump Friday.

After Milwaukee County released the “initial 14 GB (gigabytes)” of materials and documents related to the lengthy and secret investigation into former aides and associates of Gov. Scott Walker when Walker served as Milwaukee County executive, news organizations across the state began salivating at the prospects.

HEARTBREAKER: No startling revelations, no embarrassing moments. Mainstream media covering last week’s big John Doe document dump must have been discouraged by the lack of raw meat on Gov. Scott Walker in the 14 gigabytes of records released to the public.

But there didn’t seem to be any “gotcha” moments, no sensational or embarrassing correspondences from Walker or his staff, and certainly no smoking gun that might have validated a nearly three-year investigation that ostensibly began with allegations of theft and ended with six mostly disconnected convictions.

So what did we learn from the latest document dump?

That Walker’s top aide — like so many others have — questioned the motives of the prosecutor hounds hunting for red meat, and that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was a hard worker constantly thinking about policy.

As one target of the court-sanctioned dragnet put it, despite the spin cycle the mainstream media put the document pile through, Walker comes out looking pretty good.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which deployed seven reporters on its document dump story, opened the piece with Tom Nardelli, Walker’s chief of staff at Milwaukee County Executive office, questioning Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s launching of the secret investigation.

“Again, John, why is this a secret John Doe?” Nardelli wrote in a letter to Chisholm. “Why are you going this route? What is the motive?”

“Again, John, why is this a secret John Doe?”

The newspaper notes what Nardelli and a few of the individuals convicted in the investigation knew: that Walker’s office had gone to the DA a year before with information about an apparent theft from a county veterans’ fund.

But it wasn’t until long after, in May 2010, when county executive staff member Darlene Wink admitted making pro-Walker comments on the Journal Sentinel website during office hours, that the prosecutorial chase was on.

Nardelli, in an August 2010 letter to Chisholm, expressed surprise prosecutors had seized Wink’s computer. Nardelli accused the Democrat DA of using “a backdoor effort to look at a computer of someone who wasn’t even assigned to this office during the period in question,” the newspaper reported.

But prosecutors were just beginning to go down another road.

Investigators burst into the county executive’s office on Nov. 1, 2010, the day before the gubernatorial election, loaded with warrants. They demanded copies of the office’s hard drives, and more.

In an interview, Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker aide who was convicted in 2012 on a felony count of misconduct in office, a conviction she is appealing, told Wisconsin Reporter that Nardelli had given the DA’s office the tip on the discrepancy in the veterans fund a year a half before the DA’s office did anything about it.

“Tom was constantly calling them and asking where the investigation was at,” Rindfleisch said. “I don’t know if they ever returned his calls … Then Darlene admitted to Dan Bice (Journal Sentinel columnist) that she made those comments and (the DA’s office) used that as a foot in the door.”

The Wisconsin State Journal came out with the same story Friday, although it took the newspaper just one reporter to produce it.

“The records include the latest — but far from the last — batch of documents gathered from county workers’ records as part of the now-closed secret investigation into Walker’s aides and associates that stretched from May 2010 to March 2013,” Journal reporter Mary Spicuzza wrote.

She refers to the memo released in the flood of documents, with Nardelli asserting he was “suspicious of motives given the time it’s taken to resolve,” the original investigation. “(Chisholm) assured me that he would not allow his role as a prosecutor to be influenced by outside ‘political’ agendas regardless of the partisan nature we are currently living in.”

Chisholm didn’t respond to Wisconsin Reporter’s request for comment. A spokeswoman for the governor didn’t return an email request for comment.

“He (Chisholm) said there are times when a matter takes you into a different direction than initially planned and that can add time to any review,” Nardelli wrote.

Critics of politically charged John Doe investigations launched by Chisholm’s office that have spanned the better part of the past four years have raised precisely that point: that these matters have lurched into a political direction, asserting the probes have been nothing more than partisan witch hunts at taxpayers’ expense. More galling, conservatives charge, is that Chisholm’s office and the state Government Accountability Board haven’t scrutinized liberals and their organizations like they have Walker and his friends and political allies.

The latest documents to be released show a county executive “immersed in policy,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Documents obtained from Walker’s hard drive include an “array of files dealing with county budgets and running government programs, as well as more mundane matters, such as a list of the birthdays for Walker’s family members and top aides,” the newspaper reported.

Republican Walker also kept a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” as well as a 2004 letter from Walker in support of changing the name of Cudahy’s Park View Elementary School to Ronald W. Reagan Elementary School.

Is that the kind of person Wisconsin citizens want running their state, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and its left-leaning machine are likely to ask.